Interview with Elizabeth of Sew in Love

Interview with Elizabeth of Sew in Love

This week I would like to introduce you to Elizabeth Braun author of the  Sew in Love blog. On her blog you will find tutorials, tips and advice on traditional forms of embroidery  such as raised work and stump work. I was interested to hear what Elizabeth had to say about embroidery and hear about here approach as she is very practical down to earth embroiderer in some ways what drives her love of embroidery and her process is very different from my own and it is always interesting to encounter the same love but a different viewpoint.

Image for TAST Interview with Elizabeth of Sew in loveWhy do you like hand embroidery and hand work? How has it influenced your life?

I love to be artistic and creative, but I’m also a bit slack when it comes to putting in the sort of practice one needs to be able to draw and paint well (for example).  Embroidery was something I could do and produce something reasonable the first time.  Sounds a little bit contradictory considering the length of time most embroidery takes, but that’s one of the reasons why I got started – the fact that I hate wasting materials and producing junk!!!

I also needed a creative outlet and something to do whilst I was home with CFS/ME from 2002-2005.  I found that making little things for others helped to keep me actively involved in my social circle (something many fatigue patients complain of losing) and also gave me something fun to do and learn.  Giving pleasure to the people I made things for – often small gifts or pieces mounted into greetings card blanks – is also something I’ve always enjoyed and was very good for getting the focus off myself and my ills and out beyond my own four walls.  I still find the whole process very nurturing and to be a valid and genuine form of self development.

How did you start? Were you taught by your mother, school or taught yourself online? If you taught yourself what attracted you to embroidery?

To be honest, my memories of my first forays into embroidery are vague.  I remember stitching a needle case in the second of year of primary school and one or two other things like that later on.  I was given craft and needlework kits suitable for children fairly often too and enjoyed working those – sewing, needlepoint, weaving etc.  I was given a book on embroidery for my 12th birthday and it was that that inspired me to create a design on a T-shirt as part of my school GCSE Art & Design course back when I was 16, (which, sadly, completely disappeared when the exam displays were taken down.)

As an adult, my curiosity was piqued by some of the cross stitch magazine subscriptions that a Taiwanese friend had arranged to be sent via me when she moved back home.  I started flicking through some of them, thought, ‘I could do that!’ and got hold of some small off-cuts of Aida and my mum’s old stranded cotton box.  Shortly afterwards I discovered the retail stitching shows and began to discover more there.  I’ve learned from kits, magazines and books mostly.

During the 2008/9 I had the chance to take some City & Guilds level 3 embroidery classes and, although I wasn’t able to finish (thanks to poor health and international relocation issues), I learned a lot and found that my tastes and interests widened to include more contemporary methods and things such as fabric colouring and venturing away from plain white and cream backgrounds.  I’m keen to try more and more techniques and styles as time goes on.  So many, in fact, that I wonder if I’ll ever develop a style of my own!  Possibly not, but I’m not sure I really mind that at the moment.

Image for TAST Interview with Elizabeth of Sew in loveDo you use TAST to make samplers or incorporate the stitches into projects as you go. Or what sort of projects most attract you ?

When I was able to join in with TAST, I used to work small samples of the stitches on some scrap pieces of Aida.  I got to understand how many of the stitches could be used from seeing the example stitches that used to be on Pintangle each week at that time and also from the original ‘instructions’ and samples posted.  I’m not really a ‘self-starter’ when it comes to creativity.  I often find myself needing to be shown ideas and having to first copy those, then adapt them a little, then come up with something a little bit different.  I’ll never be a trail blazer!

I would like to learn a lot more stitches and get back to using TAST as a springboard.  I thought of taking the stitches a month at a time and trying to create a small piece or sample with them, but haven’t yet had the time.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m attracted to any project I can find a reason to do.  If there’s something someone would like as a wedding or special anniversary gift, then that will spur me on to make and enjoy it.  I’m not very good at creativity for the sake of it, although I rather wish I was!  I guess you could say that I need external motivation.  Entering regional horticultural and agricultural shows over the past few years has been a good impetus to get creative.  I really enjoy joining in and having the pleasure of coming away with a few prizes sometimes too.

Can you talk about your last project and/or your current project? (Can be any textile project)

My current major project is creating my own wardrobe.  I was introduced to the idea of this through a blogging acquaintance and thought, ‘Why not?’  I can rarely find clothes I like in my price range or that fit well, so I decided to get knitting and sewing my own.  I’m only in the early stages so far as I need to develop more sewing machine and dressmaking skills (which I’m going to local workshops for) and, to be honest, I’m trying to lose a bit of weight too, so I’m not quite ready to start things that need to fit well on the bottom half.  I’ve been buying in a number of patterns in readiness, have created a Pinterest inspiration and pattern board and even begun to plan to make an embroidered skirt, jacket and even a crazy quilted jacket.  I expect to learn a lot during this rather long-term project!

 Image for TAST Interview with Elizabeth of Sew in loveWhat is the project you are most proud of?

There are two that spring to mind.  The first one is a needle painted dog that I started and then put on one side as I got, frankly, afraid of messing it up when it came to the eyes and other sections that really draw the viewer’s eye.  (More on that later.)  It was for my aunt and uncle’s 40th wedding anniversary and finally got to them almost 4 years later when I worked up the nerve to press on with it.  It’s the largest single piece of embroidery I’ve ever done.

Image for TAST Interview with Elizabeth of Sew in love
Image copyright credit: Leonard Adjei for Benkowsky Photography, Accra, Ghana

The other is a relatively recent completion.  My friend was getting married in Ghana where it’s culturally unacceptable for a woman to show much of her back, so her wedding dress needed a modesty panel worked onto the fine netting cut from the train.  She asked me if I would ‘put some embroidery on it’ to make it look like it fit in somewhat, but it was to be hidden under her hair, so it didn’t have to be anything special.  I was flattered to see that she sat with her hair deliberately pulled forward over her shoulder during the ceremony so the panel would show.  Also that Kreinik, the company who make the metallic threads I used, asked to feature the project on their blog.

Do you have any UFO’s ? If so, fess up to how many?

Hmmmm.  How does one define UFO?  If it means a piece put on one side with no real intention of ever finishing it, then I have none.  I’m a very pragmatic stitcher and, as almost everything is worked for a purpose, there’s no room for UFOs of this type.  If I change my mind about something, I repurpose it or pull out the work done and discount it altogether.  I never leave part-worked projects ad infinitum.  Want to come over and polish my halo, anyone? LOL!!!

Having said that, I do have one project that I haven’t put much time in on for the past 18 months, but I do work on it occasionally and definitely plan to finish it – maybe even this summer as a show entry. It’s more of a WISP (work in slow progress) than a UFO really, and to cut myself some slack, it is the largest cross stitch project I’ve ever done.

Image for TAST Interview with Elizabeth of Sew in loveDo you work purchased designs or do you design your own projects? Or do you do both?

I do both.  I’m not really a very original and spontaneously creative person, but I do like to have a go at my own designs from time to time.  Sometimes I have no choice as the project demands it – i.e. the wedding dress panel where I had to rustle up something that looked like it belonged.  I often work others’ designs with some small adaptations of my own – anything from changing colours or thread textures through smoothing off outlines on a cross stitched picture to using the original design as a jumping off point and reworking it to suit.

I don’t really buy kits etc anymore as I have so very many threads and pieces of fabric, that I can’t bring myself to duplicate most of the time.  I would buy one if there was a design I really wanted to work.  I’d probably use my own supplies then sell on the full kit – I’ve done that before now.

Do you have a creative design process? If so what is it? Or do you work intuitively?

I don’t really know!  I’d never really thought about it until now and, as I don’t often start a design from scratch, I suppose I haven’t enough experience to describe a fully developed process.  You could say that, assuming it’s something I’ve been asked/offered to make, I start from a description given by the person concerned and any photos and/or design stimulus they have to hand.  Then I sketch something out – sometimes using elements of others’ designs in my own arrangement, and select the materials to fit in with needs.

I don’t work intuitively at all, really.  I’m not that adventurous and I do tend to be the sort of person who likes to know what’s going to happen when and where, so making it up as I go along feels uncomfortable for me.  That’s not to say designs, materials and methods aren’t changed if need dictates, but I like to keep that to a minimum and know where I’m going with things.  If anyone’s familiar with the MBTI personality typing, I’m INFJ and my strongest result was the ‘J’ – the need for structure, planning and organisation.  Many creatives are ‘P’ types instead – those who especially enjoy the journey without a strong need for a finished result as such, and are very exploratory, able to adapt easily to new challenges.  That’s a great way to be for artists, but it’s not the way I roll.  I sometimes wish it was, but you may as well tell a cat to turn into a frog.

What stimulates your creative process? What inspires and sparks ideas for you?

Again, a need for a piece, a gift, an item, that’s my greatest stimulus.  I’m always pleased when something like that comes up as it gets the creative juices flowing freely.  I enjoy all sorts of visual stimuli and feel especially inspired by photos of the colourful skies in winter scenes and sunsets, and hope something like that comes into a project soon.  The main show that I plan to join in this summer published its schedule recently, so that has really tickled my creative fancy!
I’m also inspired by materials – my fabric and thread collections particularly.  Other people’s work can fire up ideas too.  Oh, so many things!

Lots of people have trouble starting a project. What makes you start a project?  Do you have any tips to get you from blank fabric to stitching?

I smiled when I first saw this question as I always got the impression that many people have nothing like as much trouble starting things as they do finishing them!!!  Being serious though, as I’ve talked about above, I’m almost completely reliant on having a reason for a project to get me started.  I have dozens and dozens of ideas, but until there’s a reason to do them – a need for that piece – they’ll stay ideas and will rarely be brought to fruition.  That probably sounds completely alien to lots of needleworkers, but it’s the way I’m wired.  This is one of the reasons I often wish I could go back to City & Guilds work as the demands of the course provide that all important motivation to create.  I’m considering the Embroiderer’s Guild distance courses.

Another thing that can stop me getting started with an embroidery project can be that I have a fair number of other interests and there are always many, many things to do, read, study and so on.  Stitchery is just one of a whole list of things that interest me and, if I’m honest, they do tend to ‘cycle’ somewhat so that I’ll be passionately into studying science for a few weeks, then my knitting needles are smoking, then I’m really into language learning for a while, then it’s someone’s wedding and gifts need making, and so it goes on.

Do you have stall points? If so how do you get past them? Do you have any tips to share about this.

Yes, I can get badly stalled at times.  The reason for tiptoeing around a piece is almost always lack of confidence in my ability to do it well enough.  The dog I mentioned in the section about projects I’m proud of was a good example.  I wasn’t far off working the eyes and I got scared.  I knew that the eyes were the main focal point of the piece and I procrastinated over them badly for a l-o-n-g time.  The only way to get over this was to just give it a try, knowing I could unpick if needed.  And it was!!  I had to do them twice, but I got there in the end and then just had to make myself press on.

Confidence can be a real problem in creative work.  The best advice I can offer is to do some samples to practice or just, as is often the case with me, just get down to it and learn in situ, always giving yourself permission to unpick anything you’re not happy with – or even change it, if the project permits.  It’s also good to start small and avoid the stall points that come from being overwhelmed by large projects by building skill and confidence gradually.

Image for TAST Interview with Elizabeth of Sew in loveDo you have ‘go to’ stitches. In other words stitches you use frequently that you return to using over and over. If so what are they and why do you think they are so successful for you.

I have a rather plain and limited stitch repertoire, to be honest.  The ones I use most often in surface work would be long and short stitch, satin stitch, stem stitch, couching and French knots. Of course, I can do others – back, running, cross, blanket and straight stitches coming first to mind, along with bullion knots, but the first five do tend to make up most of my work.  They produce the effects I need and so I suppose that’s why I’ve never put as much time as I sometimes think I should into learning and using more.

Do you have a favourite embroidery thread, or something you use all the time? If so what is it?

I think if I were to be allowed only one type of thread to use, it would be plain old 6-stranded cotton.  It’s so versatile and the colour palettes available are tremendous.  I have the whole Anchor stranded cotton collection and about 100 of DMCs as, even with about 450 shades in one brand, there are still gaps and one can never have enough greens and neutrals!  I love to use metallics too and try to put them in as many projects as I can.

Funnily enough, having said that and thinking back over the last year’s worth of projects, I only used stranded cotton in four – two of which were specialised over-dyes, rather than plain ones, so maybe I should just have answered ‘No’ to this question!!!

What advice would you give to new hands?

I’d like to quote my husband who, when I remarked that he didn’t seem afraid of trying anything said, “I figure that most things are done by pretty ordinary people and I’m an ordinary person, so I don’t see why I can’t do them.”

You don’t have to be highly gifted or talented in design to be able to produce worthwhile stitched projects and you don’t need any special abilities or ‘leanings’.  Anyone with the manual dexterity to hold a needle can embroider, but it does make sense to start small and simple.  Try a few stitches on some scrap fabric, a small kit or a taught workshop.  Have a look in your local library for books and online for other sources of basic information.  By all means visit any specialist shops or retail shows you can get to, but don’t invest a lot of money in expensive materials and equipment until you’re sure this is an art form for you.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thanks very much Sharon for running challenges such as TAST, creating stitch tutorials and so on – they’re all such valuable resources.  The online stitching community has been of endless support and encouragement over the years, without which, I doubt I would have got much further than a few basics.

I hope you have enjoyed this TAST Interview with Elizabeth of Sew in Love. I certainly enjoyed discovering more Elizabeth’s approach to embroidery. If you want to read and see more of her embroidery pop over to Sew in Love.

This interview is part of series running during 2017 to mark a decade of the Take a Stitch Tuesday Challenge. Throughout the year I interview stitchers about their hand embroidery and feature their work.

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    1. Just read this interview this Spring Sunday morning. I love embroidery and Patchwork and this conversation was inspiring. I agree with Elizabeth’s husband. Just because we see ourselves as ordinary shouldn’t stop us from trying new ventures. We can’t all be perfect in all that we do. Thank you.

      Philomena Gallagher

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